Video Game Music Spotlight #6: Villains - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 18 April 2019 / 1,527 Views
One of the best things about villains in any medium is just how varied and different they can be from one another. Comedic villains, insane villains, ineffective villains, sympathetic villains, and any number of other types and combinations thereof have existed in video games almost since the very beginning, and musical themes based around those villains have had equally ecclectic styles over the years.
So, with that in mind, let's have a listen at some of these themes and talk a little about the villains themselves. As always, at the end you'll find a question relating to the theme of the article which you can answer in the comments below.
(from Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse)
I can honestly say that very few villains in any medium have left quite as much of an impression on me as Albedo from the Xenosaga-trilogy. After all, there aren't many villains, even insane ones, who will emphasize a point they made by cutting off their own head and growing it back just because they can. It makes for a very disturbing, and at the same time in some ways a delightfully entertaining villain.
The theme that often accompanies Albedo's appearances in the second Xenosaga game is perfect for a character like that. Going from loud, bombastic sections with heavy drums and orchestral chanting to quiet piano sections in a matter of moments gives the theme, and by extension Albedo himself a sense of unease that keeps the player on edge every time they meet him.
Jon Irenicus Encounter Theme
(from Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn)
There are few villains who have successfully conveyed the level of creeping threat that Jon Irenicus in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn did. An immensely powerful wizard with no regard for any life but his own, Irenicus begins the game torturing the player character for seemingly no reason other than his own amusement. However, as the story progresses this is all revealed to be a part of his plan to unlock the latent powers within the protagonist so he can use them to achieve his own goals.
From the start Irenicus is placed as this insurmountable opponent whose powers are so far beyond yours that it's pointless to even try and fight him. I think his theme conveys this perfectly, exhuding a feeling of constant unease and overwhelming presence. It never becomes loud or dominating, rather it just quietly fills the background with tension that slowly builds up.
(from Final Fantasy IX)
Of course, then there are those themes that are there to just create an oppressive atmosphere, and 'Immoral Melody' from Final Fantasy IX is a perfect example of this. It also serves as a nice piece of character development for Kuja, the game's villain. Kuja is someone who hides his true identity behind a shroud of mystery, someone who constantly puts on a show of superiority through fancy speeches and shows of power.
This theme suits that kind of person perfectly, where everything is meant to keep up Kuja's facade of control. The heavy organs and drums fit the piece wonderfully, as they create a nice contrast with Kuja's outward appearance, further expanding on the dichotomy between who he is and the character he plays on the outside. In some ways it's this desire to conceal his true self that makes Kuja relatable and even sympathetic, despite his often horrible actions.
(from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West)
Sometimes the actions of a villain are motivated by genuine desire to do good, however twisted or misguided they may be. In Enslaved: Odyssey to the West we never even learn the name of the person behind much of the events that unfold during the game. We finally meet him at the very end of the game at a place dubbed the Pyramid. He has connected everyone he has kidnapped to machines that constantly show them images of the world before the apocalypse, and claims it is the only way they can ever obtain true happiness.
The theme that plays in the pyramid is a reflection of this believe, as it's actually a very quiet, almost calming piano piece, rather than the usual creepy or foreboding themes that generally accompany most villains. In some ways that makes this even more disturbing, as it amplifies the feeling of conviction the villain has, even as we realize just how insane his plan truly is.
(from Chrono Trigger)
Cosmic horror is a surprisingly difficult thing to get right. Countless attempts have been made over the years, but very few have managed to effectively convey the unsettling sense of unavoidable dread and terror that such a thing should instill. Because of that, it's quite interesting that one of the games that has gotten it right isn't even a horror game, but a Japanese RPG developed in the mid-90s.
Lavos from Chrono Trigger is quite different from a lot of other villains in video games. Throughout most of the game's story it's never even seen, just mentioned as this ancient, planet-destroying entity that has cast its shadow over human history ever since it crash landed on the planet millions of years ago. This all sets a quiet, foreboding atmosphere to Lavos' entire existence, and it is perfectly captured in this theme.
(from The Secret of Monkey Island)
Of course, not all villains have to be some world-destroying monsters, some can just be governor-kidnapping ghost pirates, like LeChuck from The Secret of Monkey Island. Historically, one of the most difficult things to pull of successfully in a video game has been humour. For every genuinely funny video game there are dozens that fall flat on every turn and just come off as either desperate or dated. Fortunately, The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the rare truly funny video games.
At least some of that comes down to the game's villain, who is simply a delightfully silly, yet threathening foil to the game's protagonist Guybrush Threepwood. The same can be said for LeChuck's Theme, which is almost nothing like what one would expect from the music that accompanies the main villain of a game. However, it is perfectly in line with the tone of the game and the inherent absurdity that permeates every facet of The Secret of Monkey Island.
Queen of Drangleic ~ Nashandra
(from Dark Souls II)
Dark Souls II is often regarded as something of a black sheep of the series, with highly divisive world and enemy design that had seemingly very little continuation from the first Dark Souls. However, I think the game is still very good, with some of the most interesting lore and world building out of any game in the series. Among these was the storyline surrounding the king and queen of Drangleic and the history of their kingdom.
The theme of Nashandra, the queen of Drangleic is actually quite a sorrowful tune that may sound odd for such a character, but as you learn more about her history and where she originally comes from it starts to make sense. Nashandra was born from a small, fragmented piece of the Dark Soul. A creature of feeble strength and existence, she came to yearn for power, and to satiate this desire she came to Drangleic where king Vendrick made her his queen. This all was just the first step in her plan, but all along she was still that small piece of a shattered soul, one that lusted for what it didn't have.
Question of the Month:
Who Is Your Favourite Video Game Villain? What About Villain Theme?
This is actually a really difficult question for me because there are so many great villains and themes to choose from. Kane from Command & Conquer is one I've always liked, as are Kefka, Sephiroth and Kuja from the Final Fantasy series. Also, Kazuya from Tekken has always been up there for me. If I had to pick just one, I'd probably go for Kuja, at least right now. Tomorrow I might go for someone completely different.
As far as themes are concerned, 'The First Hunter' from Bloodborne is absolutely amazing, and at least one of my favourites of all time. It's difficult to actually put them in any specific order, but from more recent games that's among the best.
That's it for this month's video game music spotlight. I hope you enjoyed it, and as always if you have suggestions for possible future topics for spotlights leave them in the comments below.
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